“Father, we should attack now,” The young lad said.
The old man sighed. He had been sitting in this room watching his son pace back and forth for several hours now. He reached up and scratched his wolf ear, which twitched slightly. It always felt better to him when his wife scratched his ears. It just wasn’t the same effect when he did it himself.
“My son, you’ll learn as you get older that we must always stick to the plan.”
He had taken his son on this mission to start giving him some experience. He wasn’t a will user like his old man, but he still wanted to teach the boy everything he knew. However, his son could be a bit impatient. That was the way of youth sometimes. A trumpet blew in the distance. The old man nodded to himself. That meant that someone was coming.
“See… the news is here.”
Thump. Thump. Thump. As if to accentuate his words, there was some loud knocking on his door that presented itself in a timely fashion.
“Come in.” The old man picked up a cup of tea and sipped it calmly as an armored man walked into the room and immediately fell to one knee with a fist on his chest.
“General, the caravan has returned.”
His son’s eyes brightened as he turned excitedly to the man, his tail wagging slightly and his golden eyes shimmering in the light, “Let the merchant in immediately!”
“Ah,actually, it is the princess, Lucy, who has come to see you.”
The boy’s expression immediately turned, a displeased look on his face. “Why must we speak to a human spawn like her!”
The general sighed at the messenger’s confused look and then nodded his head. “Show her in.”
“Yes, my lord.” The messenger bowed before turning and leaving the room.
As soon as he was gone, the boy turned to the man sipping tea. “I do not trust her! She is still a human, no matter what her body looks like.”
The father shook his head silently while his son continued on his rage. The youth these days were so xenophobic. Since the birth of a certain prince, the sentiment has been traveling across Benatang that the human race were inherently mixed with devils. After all, only humans had the capacity to cast devil magic. Of course, humans could cast all magic. They were the most flexible species when it came to this. Furthermore, the same couple that produced a devil had also produced five beastkin women. By all accounts, the humans weren’t all that different from the beastkin.
To the general, the humans were a fine species, and this attack was nothing personal. The beastkin lands were rougher and less hospitable than the rich lands of Pria. The reason his species was there was simply to claim a chunk of the land. It was true that the king was still alive, but the beastkin were willing to pay the price by moving first. If they didn’t, they could end up with nothing. In particular, they wanted land that allowed them to share border with the devil land of Neraka.
The devilkin had attacked other countries on three occasions in the last hundred years. Each one of those occasions they had acquired chunks of land and resources out of the realm, ending with a peace treaty in their advantage. It took the combined efforts of all of the species to push them back, but it was the beastkin who had spent the most resources and sent the most men.
Some claimed this was a false statistic. That because Neraka was never attacked directly, all beastkin who fought had been deployed. Where humans had to fight on Pria soil and elves had to fight on Peri soil, the beastkin only sent aid and never put anything on the line. However, more beastkin soldiers had been killed or enslaved during the devil campaigns than any other species.
The beastkin had a unique hatred for the devilkin, so when a Prince was born with the features of a devilkin, they were one of the first to protest and demand the destruction of that child. The king had refused, and tensions between the two countries had been high ever since. In the end, the King sent his own daughter at quite a young age to Benatong as a political prisoner. There, she was trained as a will user and treated as one of the king’s own daughters.
Well, there were those who remembered who her brother was, and despite having lived on Benatong soil longer than her own home country, she still faced prejudice from those who didn’t think she was a true beastkin.
That young girl came walking into his cabin. Like the messenger, she fell to a knee with her hand on her chest. She showed every ounce of respect to the old general. It gave him a good impression of her.
“Princess, you have come to report?”
“The outer wall of the diplomatic region was breached. However, the inner wall stands.”
“Foolish!” The young boy growled. “Father, if you had sent me, it would have been done!”
“Enough, my son.” The general sighed, resisting rubbing his temples before turning back to the young girl. “What happened?”
“The devil prince…” She spoke it like it was a curse. “He used an illusion. He tricked me into thinking the army had already passed into the city. I was already outside by the time I realized his deception.”
“And what of the devil prince himself?” The general asked. “Did you finish him off?”
This time, Lucy’s ears drooped completely and she truly looked pitiful. “No… I failed. I was right there… but I wasn’t able to take the blow. This… could have been a devil deception as well.”
“You let him go!” The son’s voice was shrill. “Betrayal! Traitorous!”
“Enough, son!” The anger in the general’s voice was enough to stun his sun to silence, then he gave a kinder look to Lucy. “Devil or not, we put you in an impossible situation. I’d be more concerned if you had gone through with it without reservation.”
Lucy glanced up to meet the man’s kind eyes but still didn’t look pleased. She had come with every intention on murdering that Prince. She had heard he was an arrogant and childish man, spoiled by the doppelganger and the laughing stock of the entire castle. That was not the man she encountered. He was calculating, clever, pitiless, and strangely… warm. She buried that last feeling down deep. It had to be some kind of devil magic. There is no way she’d feel any degree of affection for that monster that ruined her former country.
That was why Lucy was here. The beastkin had overcome more prejudice than any other race. Elves were all elves. Dwarves were all dwarves. However, the beastkin had wolves, rabbits, cats, dogs, and many many more. Furthermore, her sisters were all technically beastkin just like her. She had faced some discrimination, but she blamed almost all of it on her brother. Once he was dead and the human realm was controlled by the beastkin, she and her sisters would be welcomed back. They could be a bridge between humans and animalkin. She believed in a day that humans were treated just like beastkin without the ears and tails. She even recalled once hearing a theory that humans were actually a monkey beastkin.
“General… before we left, the North gate had fallen open. Even though I had failed to kill the devil, the city is breached, we succeeded!” Lucy pleaded her case.
The general nodded. “You have done well. Your mission is finished. You have new orders.”
“You are to report back to the King in Benatong. He has a different mission to give you. He wishes to send you on a diplomatic mission, to visit one of your sisters, and to broker a treaty with their king.”
Lucy looked uncertain. “What of the devil? He may still escape? Should I not pursue him?”
The general shook his head. “You need not worry about that. This has been taken care of.”
A sinking feeling fell on Lucy’s gut when he said that. Why would that be? She should be happy if her brother was defeated or dead. There was nothing to be unhappy about.
“What does the General mean?” Lucy asked. “Did you plan for my failure?”
The general shrugged. “I’ve already said I would have been surprised if you had been able to kill your own blood. Instead, a trap was set up for him instead. We cut a deal with the lord of the city, and he will assist us in quelling the population and killing the Prince in exchange for titles.”
“You cut a deal with Lord Stebes? That blow heart? He wouldn’t even let us in the city when he thought we were truly innocent!”
The general raised a hand, chuckling. “You need not worry about him. He will be dealt with in time. The important point is that our goals have been met. Once my man returns and gives the okay. We will walk into an empty city right in the heart of the Pria territory with a secured supply line to our nation. From here, we will quickly conquer the human realm before any other nation can even think to start mobilizing their armies. We must secure a pathway to the devil lands.
“When the next war with the devils begins, the beastkin will be there. We will send our men directly into the devilkin territory and take back the thousands of beastkin slaves they have taken over the years. We will kill two devils for every beastkin who falls. We will no longer be limited by country politics, taxes, and bottlenecked supply lines.”
“Yes… General!” Lucy’s eyes flashed, clearly looking forward to it.
For years, the other nations had held the beastkin back from attacking and conquering the devils. Once they shared a border with the nation, all bets were off. Even the general’s son forwent his dirty looks towards Lucy to proudly imagine the day they could wipe away the stains and embarrassment from their previous battles with the devil nation.
“Lucy… the next part of the King’s plan requires you.” The general continued. “I know you have just made a long journey, but I would ask that you continue immediately. There is no time to rest right now.”
Lucy stood up and bowed. “Yes, General, I will report to the King immediately.”
She turned and left, and shortly after a horse was seen galloping away from the small city of Perang. She was completely alone, but no one doubted that she wouldn’t be able to make it back to Benatong safely. She was a trained will user, and strong in many ways. After she left, the night dwindled on as the army waited to march on Virdainia.
Unlike Virdainia, Perang had no city walls and was surrounded by a dense forest. Overall it wasn’t exactly the safest place to live. That was why it was so easy for the beastkin to conquer it quietly. The humans were still alive, but most of them were in prison camps, whereas a handful with useful skills had been conscripted to work for the army. The General paid them, but they were forced to work without choice. It was the most concession he’d allow in a time of war. There was no real animosity against the humans. There were always racial tensions, but that was as far as it went.
“Father, we should have attacked when the undead attacked. Waiting this long… if we march later, it’ll be daylight by the time we approach.”
The General was frowning now too. He had expected his man to have returned with the okay by now. He didn’t care when they marched on the city as long as he got the okay. The city walls would be open and there would be no resistance, so who cared if they had the darkness of night to hide their movements? The general had hoped to get through this part of the campaign with few deaths. If they had marched with the undead horde, he’d lose a lot of good men who would be better served holding the city. However, the later it got, the more uneasy he felt.
A trumpet blew in the night, and it was the first piece of news that had gotten in hours. With a breath, the general’s expression was just recovering when a second horn blew. Two horns blew. That meant an attack. The two looked at each other and then ran outside with their swords drawn.
“An attack?” The general’s son spoke in disbelief, “Who would possibly attack us now? No one even knows we are here!”
His words were met with screaming and yelling in the distance. There was the sound of battle and even some explosions. There was also a fog that reduced their visibility slightly. A man finally came running up to the pair, bowing his head.
“It’s undead… my lord!”
“Undead?” the general blinked. “What undead? Use the necomancers!”
“The necromancers… are all dead!”
“What did you say?” The general balked.
“Someone slipped into their tent… and slit all their throats while they were sleeping. All the necromancers are dead!”
“Is this…” The general put on a bitter expression. “Is this the same army we sent to Virdainia?”
The man shrugged. “The control stones are meaningless. It’d take the power of a grand magus to reprogram an army of undead.”
The general’s bitter expression turned slightly ill. He had reports that the grand magus was in the city and had some association with the devil boy. He had thought it was merely a curiosity for him. The grand magus was known to be eccentric, but he rarely got into politics. For the man to openly help the devil prince… what could that possibly mean? What did he hope to gain?
More explosions erupted in the distance, and the fighting grew more violent. This forested city was the worst area to fight a horde of undead. It’d be complete pandemonium. The general cursed.
“Order the men to retreat! We must get to a defensible position and then push off the undead threat. After that, we’ll reassess the state of the city. Virdainia may still be standing.”
After running inside and grabbed what he needed, the general quickly mounted his horse, his son right beside him. Things rarely went according to plan. This was no great setback. It was merely a miscalculation. The Grand Magus was probably just grouchy his sleep had been irritated so he spun the army around and had them head back where they came from. He started heading down the retreat path when there was a sudden explosion. Several logs fell, blocking the paths completely.
The general frowned, turning his horse to head a different direction, only to see a swarm of undead coming. His brows started to furrow. The undead were already here… no, wait… these were flanking. Undead don’t flank! The level of control to get the undead to pull off these kinds of maneuvers would require someone living to be in the party! However, he glanced through and didn’t see a single living creature.
The undead attacked him. There were a dozen other men nearby. They began to fight, but the monsters also fought with extreme precision. They weren’t completely mindless. They fought with strategy and adapted quickly. They still weren’t particularly smart, and fifty against twelve seemed to be an even fight, but one of his men after another fell until it was just him and his son. Only then did they cut down the last zombie did they notice one of the zombies had turned and was running away, which was an odd sight to see.
“There is one last one!” His son cried out, racing towards the zombie who was running away.
“No, wait!” The general called out.
The zombie turned and lifted up a bow. The arrow released, striking his son in the throat.
The general bellowed, using his will and covering the distance to the zombie. The zombie stumbled back, letting out a cry of shock. It was only when the general was on top of the zombie did he notice it was makeup. The man had a control stone. He looked to be a human archer, but he was dressed up as the undead and put in control of a hundred zombies. The general didn’t hesitate to cut down the man. He didn’t have any questions for him, he had figured it all out already.
Someone didn’t just turn the army, they redirected it. The humans were severely outnumbered, so each human was given a control stone and a group of a hundred and set off. Suddenly, an army of 100 humans was turned into 10,000 troops. They hid entirely by dressing as the undead themselves. It was a means of fighting the general had never seen before. It was downright wicked.
“The devil prince…” The general murmured before returning to his son.
He could only lean down and close the man’s eyes. He was only nineteen years old. The general wanted to show him battle, and in a single fight, they had been wiped out. He noticed then a fog had rolled in too, blocking visibility. He hadn’t noticed it before, but it was so thick now that he could barely see two feet in front of him. All he could do was hear screaming a growling off in the distance. He understood now that his army was gone. They had surrounded them, knocked out scouts, broken communication, created a blackout, destroyed the necromancers, and were no systematically wiping the beastkin out.
The general thought he had been dealing with a bunch of fools. He had completely underestimated his enemy. Now, this was the cost of his actions. A for sure victory was spun into an embarrassing defeat like that. The general turned to the south, the direction of Virdainia and the devil prince.
“My name Is General Tucci.” He said, pulling out a knife and cutting his hand. “Prince David of the human realm. Mark my words. I will see you dead on the battlefield.”
He let the blood from his hands drip onto the corpse of his son. Then, he turned and ran off into the fog. He would save who he could save, and flee back to Benatong. However, it wasn’t over. He wouldn’t let it end like this. Now, it was personal.